I wonder if there's another way to observe this day and the season of Lent which it inaugurates by considering where those ashes come from. I don't mean their traditional origin in last year's Palm Sunday palm fronds that are burned to ashes and mixed with oil to create an adhesive mix, but a deeper origin.
Studies show that the more you toot your own horn, the more negatively you're evaluated: Self-promoters are not only less liked, but also earn lower salaries and fewer promotions. Bragging about yourself violates norms of modesty and politeness -- and if you were really competent, your work would speak for itself.
Humility is an act of strength, not a sign of weakness, because it reflects confidence in the future more than a fear enslaved by the past. Isn't that, after all, what America should be most about? And if humility was good enough for Jesus, as the Pope is helping us to remember, then shouldn't it also be good enough for us?